Although they've released a couple different albums overseas in the past couple years, After Summer is the first album from the Estonia-based group Pia Fraus in almost five years. The last time we heard from them stateside, it was on the excellent little Plastilina EP, which collected the best (and some of the more varied) work from their self-titled debut.
While five years have lapsed since that time, it seems that Pia Fraus has only slightly changed their ways, which will be a joy to some and frustrating to others. The six-piece group (which now partially lives in different places and put the album together through file-sharing) is still full-on dream-pop, with layered guitars, synths, and male/female vocals that are sweet like candy. Mix together equal parts Mahogany, The Pastels, and Stereolab, and you're getting somewhere close.
And yet, despite Pia Fraus being great at what they do, and despite them working with producer Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels), I find myself having a hard time getting into After Summer. It's all very pretty and nicely put-together, but the biggest problem I have with the ten songs and forty minutes here is that it's all so similar. Just about every song here shuffles along at a perky (but not too fast) mid-tempo pace that allows everything to gloss together just so. "Springsister," "Loveloops," the album-titled "After Summer," and "Sailing Yes" all work a lightweight motorik beat while layering swirling synths, chiming guitars, and and cotton candy vocals over the top. Only the middle track breaks real form by cracking off into a darker (and somewhat sinister second half) that helps take it in a different direction.
Elsewhere, "Doctor Optimism" squeezes out some My Bloody Valentine-ish guitars over breathy vocals, chimes, and more swirling synth, while both the darker "House Eaten" and "Mute The Birds" are much-welcome changes in mood even if they don't expand on the sound palette a great deal. Your level of enjoyment with After Summer will likely depend on what you bring to it. If you're a person who can't get enough spring/summer pop music with a focus on lovely textures and pretty vocals, this is definitely one to look up.